This will be Ted Thompson’s 13th draft running the Green Bay Packers. Dusting off a series we wrote in 2015, we look back on his previous 12 drafts and try to find trends that might be worth remembering as we look ahead to this year’s draft. We continue this series with the tight ends.
TIGHT ENDS (7)
2007, 7th round — Clark Harris, Rutgers (6-5 1/2, 261; 4.83; 7.21 3-cone; 21 reps on 225-pound bench press; NA hand size): Harris was a lousy tight end but has been a darned good long snapper. Harris, the 13th and final tight end selected, didn’t make Green Bay’s roster as a rookie but has been the Bengals’ long snapper since early in the 2009 season. Grade: F.
2008, 3rd round — Jermichael Finley, Texas (6-4 1/2, 243; 4.82 40; 7.15 3-cone; 20 reps; 10 1/8 hands): Finley never quite lived up to expectations due to his penchant for dropping passes and an injury that prematurely ended his career. However, he put up numbers that rivaled any tight end in franchise history. He caught 55 passes in 2009, 55 in 2011 and 61 in 2012. He was off to big starts in 2010 (torn ACL) and 2013 (neck). Finley was the seventh of 17 tight ends selected. His 223 career receptions rank fourth on that list, even with the injuries. Martellus Bennett, by the way, is No. 1 on that list with 403 catches. Bennett was taken at No. 61 — 30 picks before Finley. Of the nine tight ends taken after Finley, only Jacob Tamme has more catches (259) and none have more yards. Grade: B.
2010, 5th round — Andrew Quarless, Penn State (6-4 3/8, 254; 4.69 40; 7.29 3-cone; 23 reps; 10 1/4 hands): When Finley suffered major injuries in 2010 and 2013, Quarless did what he could to pick up the slack. He caught 21 passes as a rookie to help the Packers win the Super Bowl and 32 passes in 2013. As the No. 1 tight end in 2014, he caught 29 passes for career highs of 323 yards and three scores. Quarless was the 11th of 19 tight ends selected. In six seasons, he caught 89 passes for 940 yards and six touchdowns — more receptions and yards than any of the seven other tight ends taken in the final three rounds. His career appears to be over after not playing last season. Grade: C-plus.
2011, 5th round — D.J. Williams, Arkansas (6-2 1/8, 245; 4.67 40; 7.29 3-cone; 20 reps; 10 3/8 hands): After a superb collegiate career, Williams was a major disappointment with nine receptions with five teams. All nine catches came with Green Bay in 2011 and 2012. Williams was the seventh of 13 tight ends drafted. Only three had fewer receptions. Daniel Hardy (seventh round, Tampa Bay) was the only tight end out of the league faster, and only Williams and Hardy failed to score a touchdown. Charles Clay, who was taken 33 picks after Williams, has 269 receptions and 21 touchdowns (and counting). Grade: F.
2011, 7th round — Ryan Taylor, North Carolina (6-3 1/2, 254; 4.76 40; 7.09 3-cone; 21 reps; NA hands): Taylor caught eight passes in his first two-plus seasons but was released about one-third of the way through the 2014 season. Without Taylor, the special teams were horrible — a fact driven home, circled in red ink and highlighted in yellow when fellow tight end Brandon Bostick botched the onside kick in the NFC title game at Seattle. Back to Taylor: He signed with four teams following his release by the Packers but didn’t play for any of them. Of the 13 tight ends selected, only two had fewer than his eight receptions. Grade: B-minus.
2014, 3rd round — Richard Rodgers, California (6-4, 257; 4.87 40; 7.23 3-cone; 16 reps; 10 1/8 hands): It will be interesting to see what Rodgers’ role for 2017 will be with the offseason additions of Bennett and Lance Kendricks. In three seasons, Rodgers has caught 108 passes for 1,006 yards and 12 touchdowns. After catching 58 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015, the Packers signed Jared Cook and Rodgers’ numbers fell to 30 grabs, 271 yards and two touchdowns. He’s a bad blocker and a bad athlete but knows how to get open and usually catches it. Of the 10 tight ends selected, he trails only the first tight end selected, Detroit’s Eric Ebron, in catches and yards and ranks first in touchdowns. Baltimore took Crockett Gillmore one spot after Rodgers, with Rodgers essentially doubling Crockett’s production of 51 catches, 604 yards and six scores. Grade: C.
2015, 6th round — Kennard Backman, UAB (6-3 1/4, 243; 4.66 40; 7.23 3-cone; 17 reps; NA hands): Backman was a receiving tight end who couldn’t catch. Thus, he’s out of the league with zero career catches. Backman was the 15th of 19 tight ends selected. He was one of only two to not catch a pass. Ben Koyack was the next tight end taken, 16 selections later, and he caught 19 passes last season.
Overall grade: There are two ways to view this. The first: Considering the limited draft resources used at the position, Thompson has done OK. Finley was the 91st overall selection in 2008 — the earliest of his tight end picks. It looked like Finley had it all figured out when he went down against the Browns in 2013. The only major gaffe was taking Williams. The second: Thompson hasn’t signed many free agents but three of them were tight ends (Cook, Bennett and Kendricks). Had he hit on Rodgers, would Thompson have signed any of them? Grade: C-minus.
What it means (if anything) for 2017: Perhaps this will be a question worth asking in 2018 because the Packers appear set with Bennett, Kendricks, Rodgers and promising Beau Sandland, a seventh-round pick by Carolina last year who joined Green Bay’s practice squad in November. Adding Sandland to the mix; He was 6-foot-4 1/2 and 253 pounds at the 2016 Combine, with a 4.74 40, 3-cone time of 7.10 seconds, 23 reps on the bench and 10 1/8-inch hands, so he fits tidly into the comparisons in the last paragraph.
The only short tight end selected by Thompson was Williams, who bombed. Would that take talented pass catchers such as South Alabama’s Gerald Everett (6-foot-3) and Florida International’s Jonnu Smith (6-2 5/8) off the board? Then again, other than Harris, Thompson hasn’t taken any towering tight ends, either, with Finley being the next-tallest at 6-foot-4 1/2. (Bennett, though is 6-6 1/8.)
We have hand-size data available for four of Thompson’s seven selections. All of them had hands of at least 10 inches. If that indeed is a threshold, that would eliminate five of the 19 tight ends from the Combine (Cethan Carter, Everett, George Kittle, Adam Shaheen and Smith). The slowest 40 is 4.87 seconds (Rodgers) and the slowest three-cone is 7.29 seconds (Quarless and Williams). If those are thresholds, that would remove two more (Scott Orndoff and Hayden Plinke, who were slower on both tests) from the list. All of the Combine prospects beat Green Bay’s worst bench-press total (Rodgers; 16).
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.